The Secret Agent
Having infused by persistent importunities some sort of heat into the chilly interest of
several licensed victuallers (the acquaintances once upon a time of her late unlucky
husband), Mrs Verloc's mother had at last secured her admission to certain almshouses
founded by a wealthy innkeeper for the destitute widows of the trade.
This end, conceived in the astuteness of her uneasy heart, the old woman had pursued
with secrecy and determination. That was the time when her daughter Winnie could not
help passing a remark to Mr Verloc that "mother has been spending half-crowns and five
shillings almost every day this last week in cab fares." But the remark was not made
grudgingly. Winnie respected her mother's infirmities. She was only a little surprised at
this sudden mania for locomotion. Mr Verloc, who was sufficiently magnificent in his
way, had grunted the remark impatiently aside as interfering with his meditations. These
were frequent, deep, and prolonged; they bore upon a matter more important than five
shillings. Distinctly more important, and beyond all comparison more difficult to
consider in all its aspects with philosophical serenity.
Her object attained in astute secrecy, the heroic old woman had made a clean breast of it
to Mrs Verloc. Her soul was triumphant and her heart tremulous. Inwardly she quaked,
because she dreaded and admired the calm, self-contained character of her daughter
Winnie, whose displeasure was made redoubtable by a diversity of dreadful silences. But
she did not allow her inward apprehensions to rob her of the advantage of venerable
placidity conferred upon her outward person by her triple chin, the floating ampleness of
her ancient form, and the impotent condition of her legs.
The shock of the information was so unexpected that Mrs Verloc, against her usual
practice when addressed, interrupted the domestic occupation she was engaged upon. It
was the dusting of the furniture in the parlour behind the shop. She turned her head
towards her mother.
"Whatever did you want to do that for?" she exclaimed, in scandalised astonishment.
The shock must have been severe to make her depart from that distant and uninquiring
acceptance of facts which was her force and her safeguard in life.
"Weren't you made comfortable enough here?"
She had lapsed into these inquiries, but next moment she saved the consistency of her
conduct by resuming her dusting, while the old woman sat scared and dumb under her
dingy white cap and lustreless dark wig.
Winnie finished the chair, and ran the duster along the mahogany at the back of the
horse-hair sofa on which Mr Verloc loved to take his ease in hat and overcoat. She was
intent on her work, but presently she permitted herself another question.